InflammAging: Fight The Fire

Posted by Jennie Ann Freiman MD on

Too much of a good thing is a basic principle of nature: some is good, excess is often harmful. Inflammaging, how inflammation speeds up aging, is a perfect example of this principle. As intended, inflammation is nature's healing response to infection or tissue injury, a self limited process that protects us from disease. In short doses, inflammation is essential for human survival. When taken to the extreme by becoming an unnatural, continuous state, aging accelerates, health problems and premature death follow. A nonstop inflammatory attack on organs and tissues leads to chronic disease, including type-2 diabetes, heart disease, Alzheimer's, cancer, macular degeneration and osteoporosis. Healthspan and lifespan are compromised by unchecked inflammation.

As time passes, all roads lead to inflammaging. Genetics, the environment and the many factors that drive the complex process of aging are, at the core, the outcome of a pro-inflammatory vs anti-inflammatory tug-of-war. Luckily, lifestyle modification can tame inflammation-promoters, stopping, and sometimes reversing the damage they incite. The goal is to be vital and live a long life while feeling good and looking good.

There are no specific biomarkers of aging, but markers of inflammation are reliable predictors of accelerated aging and its destructive consequences for health and well being. Easily available blood tests that raise a red flag for inflammaging include:

Screen for generalized inflammation:

CRP (C-reactive protein)

ESR (erythrocyte sedimentation rate)

WBC (white blood cell count)

Screen specifically for blood vessel inflammation, risk for heart/cardiovascular disease:

hs-CRP (high sensitivity C-reactive protein)

Test available, but not mainstream as of this time:

IL-6 (interleukin-6) - may be ordered with CRP for additional information

A sedentary lifestyle, unhealthy diet, stress and exposure to environmental toxins are modifiable factors linked to elevation in some or all of the above blood tests, and inflammaging. All anti-aging strategies power the side of the inflammation tug-of-war pulling for immune boosting, anti-inflammatory and anti-oxidant actions.

These lifestyle interventions fight inflammaging:

  • Calorie restriction in the range of 25 - 50% daily, is the most scientifically authenticated anti-aging strategy, more so when practiced in combination with good nutrition. The downside is most people find it tough, if not impossible, to follow long term. Another option, time-restricted eating, also known as intermittent fasting, is an excellent, more user-friendly way to reap similar benefits. Confining eating to an 8 - 12 hour window every day (i.e. finish dinner at 7PM, then no more food or drink until 7 AM) mimics ancestral feeding patterns, promotes weight loss and improves longevity.
  • Treat zinc deficiency. Zinc wears many hats in supporting immune function, notably cold prevention and wound healing. Zinc deficiency, not always recognized, is common in the general population due to poor gut absorption (related to aging, alcohol use, Crohn's and other gastrointestinal diseases), and is more likely to be an issue with low-protein, vegetarian or vegan diets. If the blood test for zinc is low, the level can be brought to normal with diet and/or supplements. Meat and poultry are zinc-rich foods.
  • Mediterranean Diet Considered by many to be the world's healthiest diet, MeDi works some of its anti—aging magic by modifying the gut microbiome in favor of good bacteria that fight inflammation. Prebiotic (high in plant fiber) and probiotic (fermented) foods have a similar effect, supporting intestinal health that in turn drives the suppression of aging.
  • Flavonoids, plant compounds best known for anti-oxidant activity, are now recognized for fighting inflammation by acting as epigenetic agents, able to influence gene expression, literally turning them on or off. Flavonoids are found in nuts, tea, dark chocolate and colorful produce and spices. Blueberries, cacao and turmeric are a few flavonoid superstars.
  • Sleep is called "beauty rest" for a reason. Aging skin is the tip of the inflammaging iceberg, a cosmetic window into what goes on behind the scenes, inside the body. Sleep allows for system maintenance, a cleansing time during which potentially toxic cellular trash, the daily byproducts of healthy metabolic function, is removed. Tips to naturally improve sleep hygiene do not include sedatives.
  • Physical exercise helps prevent DNA damage that promotes aging. Olympic athletes need not apply: as little as 20 - 30 minutes of moderate, daily exercise is all it takes to slow down the aging clock. Aerobics, dance, walking, biking...it doesn't matter. Just move!

Aging happens, but how we choose to age and how much we act to delay the inevitable, is in our control. Frailty and the diminished quality of life associated with aging is largely a result of our modern lifestyle, but it doesn't have to be that way. Living well is the best revenge, so why not adopt a wellness plan that supports a new normal for aging?

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Disclaimer: This article was created for informational purposes only, is not intended to provide medical advice, diagnosis or treatment and is not intended to be a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis, or treatment. Views expressed here do not necessarily reflect those of Oobroo™ Inc or its staff.

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